The selection of an experimental All Blacks side will provide further insight into New Zealand’s player depth in Tokyo this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
To put this match-up in perspective, there are more than 17 ranking points that separate 11th-placed Japan and the top-ranked All Blacks.
Although Japan have made some progress as a rugby nation in recent years, and have enjoyed exposure to Super Rugby through the Sunwolves, they are now set to face an insurmountable challenge on Saturday.
In some respects, the All Blacks have offered Japan a lifeline of sorts by selecting several second and even third-choice players in a match 23 that includes eight uncapped players.
However, quality Test stars such as Dane Coles and Jordie Barrett return to the starting lineup, while the likes of Richie Mo’unga, Waisake Naholo and Nehe Milner-Skudder further boost a backline that still looks extremely dangerous.
Of course, Japan will look to embrace the sort of high-tempo, ball-in-hand approach that the Sunwolves have often enforced in Super Rugby, but that also comes with plenty of risk.
The All Blacks still have enough dangermen to pounce on any turnovers, while there are a number of newcomers who will want to prove a point to coach Steve Hansen.
As the reigning world champs continue to build towards the World Cup, they have used this match to test the depth of their talent pool, and it will be interesting to see the end result.
Ultimately, the All Blacks should still be expected to claim a more-than-comfortable win, but the margin of victory may be somewhat diminished as a result of their wholesale changes.
Japan – 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Jamie Henry, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Tim Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Samuela Anise, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Yusuki Niwai, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Asaeli Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Vaka Nakajima, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda 23 Ryoto Nakamura.
All Blacks – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Luke Whitelock (c), 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Dillon Hunt, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Mitch Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 George Bridge.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images